Crafty Vision

Just got back from South Carolina. The most eligible bachelor in my immediate family (okay, he was the only eligible bachelor left in my immediate family) is now officially "off the market." The wedding went well, and the couple is honeymooning on the beach right now. I love weddings. More on that some other time...

For now, I was just reading in Genesis 11, doing some preparation for a series I'll be teaching this October, and noticed something interesting. You remember the Tower of Babel story, which comes sometime after Noah's ark landed. In Genesis 11:4, the people of the earth say, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth."

The idea of crafting a vision to unify an organization is as old as Noah's ark.

But you'll also remember that the people of Babel ended up in big trouble for their vision. The key word in the passage is "ourselves." Read the verse again: "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth."

These people were the direct descendants of Noah. They had his testimony, and would have undoubtedly heard of God's declarations about Noah and his descendants. They had an identity - a vision. The problem was, they wanted their own.

As a part of organizations, especially churches, we need to be abolutely sure that we're not in the business of crafting vision for our organization. We shouldn't be able creating a brand/identity for our organization. As leaders of Christian organizations, we must never be in the business of creating vision, but we must always be in the business of casting the vision which has already been established. Otherwise, we run the risk of creating vision and identity that is in direct contradiction to God's desire for us, which is exactly what the people of Babel did. And, just as in the case of the people of Babel, our vision for ourselves will always be shortsighted.

The rationale behind the decision of those in Babel to create their own vision, city, and name, was to prevent being "scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth." They wanted a city and name for themselves so badly that they allowed a felt-need to eclipse their greater purpose. In reality, dispersement over the whole earth was a blessing promised to Noah and his sons by God in 9:1.

Their dream was short-sighted, selfish, and either knowingly or unknowingly left God out. And as a result, God fulfilled his blessing to Noah's descendants by judging them.

I worry sometimes that a lot of our Christian organizations set out to craft vision in response to felt needs without ever stopping to consider how that vision might hinder the vision each Christian organization should presuppose.

These are funny:

My infamous pyromaniac uncle is the founder of the Team Pyromaniac Blog. Most of the time their blogs are way over my head. Sometimes they can border on mean-spirited. Often their thoughts are right on, witty, informative and entertaining.

Regardless of whether or not you would consider yourself "emergent" or "postmodern" in your worship preferences, I think you'll find the following pictures amusing.

I don't know if Phil deserves the credit/blame for coming up with these (my guess is that he does), or someone else, but they're a series of pictures along the lines of the old successories pictures. See if they don't at least make you chuckle.

You can see them here, here, and here.

Meanwhile, Kari and I are off to South Carolina. My baby brother is getting married on Saturday, and it's a good excuse to play some golf...

Melt Me

Had a great lunch today with one of the guys who is involved in the young singles ministry to talk about the small group he's leading. He wants to challenge them more effectively and be more intentional about shaping their lives. It was a great conversation - he's the kind of guy you pray God will send you to lead one of your small groups if you're a pastor.

He made a comment that was pretty profound as we were talking about how difficult it is to build into the lives of people.

"When I think about ministry, I'm reminded of that old hymn "Spirit of the Living God," where we sing the chorus 'melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.' But we don't really believe it. Everyone wants to be molded, filled, and used, but nobody wants to melt."

That's good stuff.

It's Harder to Breathe at the Top

For as long as I can remember, I've been obsessed with being the best at whatever I do. Perhaps it's because I'm a sore loser by nature. Maybe it's because I like the recognition and satisfaction that comes from a job well done. At times there are more noble reasons for pursuing excellence in everything I do. Most of the time, it's a mixed bag of the above reasons. But whatever the motivation, I'm often pretty dedicated to charging to the "top" of whatever mountain we're climbing. And not only do I want to get to the top, I want to be there first.

Ignore all the obvious character flaws the above paragraph puts flashing lights around, and play along with me for a while. Because I'm a dreamer by nature, and want to be the best, I spend a lot of time thinking about the future. I love to dream, plan, strategize, think, and hope about what I'll say during my conversation this afternoon with one of our single adults who is struggling with pornography, my premarital counseling session next week with a really cute couple who is doing things right - I even have a "WIAP" (When I'm a Pastor) file in my filing cabinet that started about 10 years ago - before I even started in ministry.

But if I'm not careful, I can spend my whole life thinking about how great things are going to be "when I get to the top" that I miss the fun in the journey, and glamorize "the top" to the point that the picture in my head is an inaccurate portrayal about what "the top" really looks like.

I watched a movie the other night about some guys who climbed Mt. Everest. They spent years planning their trip, days and weeks preparing and climbing the mountain, and 5 minutes at the summit.

5 minutes at the top...

It's hard to breathe at the top.

It's the same thing in our careers and ministries. We can fawn over what life must be like to be the CEO, or the Manager, or the head honcho. But when you get to the top, it's pretty hard to breathe. You're no longer working in the realm of possibility - you're dealing in the world of actuality which never seems to conform to the world you dreamt about.

When I got my first full-time ministry position almost ten years ago, I had a file full of ideas for how to be a great leader. I knew how to craft a vision, mission, to establish core values, and to establish a group identity. I'm embarrassed to tell you how many management books I read in preparation for that job (and subsequent jobs), to only find out that the majority of them are written by dreamers like me who manage in the world of pretend without real people, real problems, and real issues.

In the current ministry where I serve, there are lots of exciting things happening. It's glamorous sometimes, but most of the time it's just plain hard to breathe. Decisions aren't as easy as the fake decisions you make in your head that have no consequences. At the "top" of a ministry, every decision is like that old game of Pick up Sticks: every thing you move has an effect on everything else. You can't change a program without assessing values, and you can't assess values without assessing culture. You can't look at culture without looking at people, and people are messy and change on you just about the time you're ready to make headway.

Leadership is a lot about making good gut decisions, and those make my stomach hurt.

Make no mistake, I love where I'm at. I can see things slowly beginning to shift as lives are changed and perspectives are transformed. I can see light bulbs coming on, and a bigger picture that not a lot of people get to see. But it's a lot harder to breathe than I thought it would be.

Patriotic Worship?

I feel the need to start this post with a little disclaimer: I'm one of the most patriotic people you could ever hope to meet. I'm proud to be an American citizen, thankful for the freedom I enjoy, and participate in our democracy every chance I get.

But as an American pastor, every year on Memorial Day and Independence Day I find myself asking a question that I'm hoping you can help me with: Is it appropriate to sing patriotic songs in a church worship service?

Thousands of churches (including mine) added "America the Beautiful" and "God Bless America" to the music portion of their service this week. Several said the Pledge of Allegiance, and took the offering to the Star Spangled Banner.

And I have to admit, it kind of makes me wince a little.

I understand some of the reasoning. Church is often the only venue outside of fireworks displays that we hear many of those songs anymore. Also, we want to honor those who have gone before us to preserve the freedoms we presently enjoy, one of which we exercise every time we go to church. But I wonder if our message as the Church is not at best confused by a worship team who sings a stanza of "America the Beautiful," changes keys, and begins a hymn or praise chorus?

To me, it's one thing to honor those who have used the gifts, talents, and abilities God has given them to serve in the armed forces during our Memorial Day and Independence Day services much as we would honor a missionary who used his or her gifts, talents, and abilities. It's another thing to pledge allegiance to the American flag, or sing songs about our country during a worship service.

If the Church exists as the Body of Christ, as people who are aliens in this world, with the responsibility to point people to a kingdom that is not of this world, do we not run the risk of confusing that message when we glorify our country in a service designed to glorify Christ?

And what about the people in our churches who are not from the United States of America? What about the exchange student, or temporary worker who is in the States for a contract position and shows up to our church? Doesn't that send them a conflicting message about what the Church is about?

I'd love to hear your comments. Does your church include patriotic music in its services? Do you have an American flag on the stage? As you have thought through the issue, whether or not you're in full-time ministry, what conclusions have you reached?

Transforming Church - Review

I just finished "Transforming Church - Bringing Out the Good to Get Great," by Kevin Ford.

It was recommended by our senior pastor, particularly for its discussion of effective staff relationships. I expected it would be like most of the other hundred or so "make your church great" books I've read over the past several years, but was pleasantly surprised.
Although I'm not sure the book answers all the questions it asks, it's definitely worth reading. Here are some of the things the book said that I thought were noteworthy:

      • It's time to help our churches move from consuming churches to connecting and engaging churches.

      • Church staffs must function as teams, not families. A team functions with a goal in mind, and is able to rearrange or reassign team members in order to achieve that goal. The family is comfortable with its black sheep, and is often unwilling to confront issues that prevent health because of the relationship with an individual.

      • Community/collaboration is inextricably bound to creativity. It is impossible to be truly creative apart from community. It is also impossible to have true community without creativity.

      • Churches have become a "dispenser of religious goods and services where people come to get" instead of a "missions station where people are launched to give."

      • We should spend more time caring about church health than church success.

      • We should be encouraging the people in our church that their "everyday life is an extension of our church's mission."

      • True leadership means releasing power for the sake of empowering others.

      • Churches fail when they offer an adventure instead of a quest. The adventure seeks treasure rather than transformation. A quest offers a changed life.

      • The job of a leader is not to protect people from pain.

      • Good leaders regulate stress and energy making sure there is always an element of anxiety and stress in the organization they lead. With too much stress and anxiety, the organization is rendered helpless. With too little stress and anxiety, the organization becomes complacent.
      Overall, it was a good book and an easy read. If you're looking for a book on church health that is different from the others you've read, this one is one you should check out.